One of the most spectacular and under-recorded events of the English Civil War – an epic march across the Highlands to raid an impenatrable fortress.
THE SCOTTISH AND IRISH IN THE ENGLISH CIVIL WAR THE MARCH ON INVERARY 1644
MacColla brought Montrose reinforcements with 500 of the Macdonalds of Keppoch, and 600 of John Of Maidant’s Clan Ranald men, among others. The native Scots in Montrose’s army now heavily outnumbered the Irishry as Montrose’s numbers reached a peak of 4,500. It was at this point that MacColla proposed that the whole army go on a march on Inverary 150 miles away to ravage their way through Campbell lands and hopefully bring down Lord Argyll. Montrose protested. He had plans of his own. With such an army, it was now surely time to press their way South, to serve the King’s cause.
MacColla adamantly disagreed. If Montrose were not going to co-operate in an attack on Argyllshire, all these fine new Highland soldiers would simply go home, never to return or offer their services again.
Shocked by the ultimatum, Montrose called a council of war to discuss the best ways to use the new recruits. He felt as though the men before him were usurping his authority. One wrong step now could have meant mutiny or mass defection. Montrose tried to dismiss the epic march proposed as an act of madness. The epic trek was one few men could endure. . Winter was closing in, and the mountain passes to be crossed would be not only knee deep in snow but very probably heavily guarded. A few hundred men could hold off thousands from the high crags and ridges, while some paths were so narrow that men would not be able to walk more than three abreast through them. There would be very little food and no sheltered places to rest. Such an expedition would be the height of folly.
MacColla was sympathetic to the perfectly sensible reasoning, but counter-argued that the Highlanders had a number of men in their midst who knew the mountain passes well, and often travelled them undetected. Argyll would never be expecting an assault through such terrain. The Campbells had, for years, allowed the myth of his invulnerability in the region to be taken for granted. It was a regular Campbell clan boasts that it was ‘A long way to Loch Awe’.